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Zineb Sedira, Une Génération de Femmes, 1997

Walls are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture

Whitworth Art Gallery, until 30 Aug 2010

Reviewed by Dave Porter July 2010

This fascinating exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery is the first major UK Exhibition of artists' wallpaper with work by over 30 artists, including Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol and Sarah Lucas. It shows how artists have leapt on the possibilities that wallpaper offers to magnify and multiply their vision, so if you want art hanging on your walls, it now doubles up as wallpaper!


Repetition, of course, is the name of the game here and Warhol’s influence looms large, his Cows being a classic example of the power of one image repeated many times. But where Warhol leaves little to the imagination, some of the best pieces here are intricate and detailed montages of startling images and often highly-sexualised motifs.

Hirst’s Butterfly is undeniably beautiful and feels like it could take wing at any time; and his minute reproductions of bottles of pills, which looks from afar like a computer circuit board, is actually laced with Biblical sayings. Religion as a drug, anyone?

The domesticated setting of wallpaper is reinforced with a number of sexually-charged prints which are both playful and disturbing, Sarah Lucas’ Tits In Space belonging to the latter. Not for the prurient, this exhibition comes with a warning about the graphic nature of some wallpaper examples.

But for the nostalgic and innocent, there are wonderful evocations of childhood with prints of the Man Utd squad, Barbie, Batman and – whisper it quietly – even the Spice Girls.

Appropriately enough, the show is divided into several rooms. One of the most disquieting of these is entitled Subversion, with its displays of wallpaper which comes loaded with political and social messages. Bullies by Virgil Martin is in the form of a high school year book: its youthful smiling faces sit at odds with the title and the knowledge that as a young gay man Marti suffered at the hands of his classmates.

Other prints recall racist colonialism and the plight suffered by the Afghan people post-9/11. In such instances, repetition of the images leaves little room for argument. London Toile by the Glasgow-based Timorous Beasties reveals London as a dark underpass where young people meet each other with violent retribution.

But wallpaper is nothing if not humorous and relief comes in the shape of artist Lee Bowers’ head morphed into a flower and video installations with disappearing icons.

Grab your plumb line and go along, you won’t be disappointed.

Exhibition is on until 30 August 2010


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